An Enlightened Practice of Acupuncture

Old Chinese medical chart on acupuncture meridians

Image via Wikipedia

I came to acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine through a long and winding road.  My desire to affect people’s lives catapulted me towards the healing arts.  I left a mercenary career for an emotionally rewarding one.  I realized that for me, I was exercising the mind and body heavily, and my spirit was suffering.  From early on in my clinical studies, I found much enjoyment being with my patients and helping them achieve a healthy attitude and move towards living a healthy life.  I knew I was in the right place.  The ability to share knowledge and serve others was more rewarding to me than anything I had ever done in the past.  I was becoming a balanced mind, body, and spirit.  More human.

In these past years as an acupuncturist, I’ve learned a few things about my practice with Chinese medicine that I wish to relate to you, the reader.  Reasonably, I learned none of these ideas in the classroom.  The classroom prepares a student for exams, while real clinical experience prepares one for practical application.  With what is written here, you may find some similarities with your own practice.  Or, if you are a patient, you may find something here that resonates with your deeper self.

1.  Acupuncture cultivates awareness.  Awareness is my daily practice, my meditation, every time I see a patient.  I have to be fully present in order to do my best.  The very nature of an acupuncture practitioner is that he or she uses the entire range of senses for diagnosis, assessment, and treatment.  In my office, I am invited to be aware of the existing moment through the immediate use of my senses.  Awareness of the season, the time of day, the temperature of the room, the smell of the room, the sound of the patient, and the presence of my own mind are all constituents of this moment.  Just by focusing on the present moment, all thoughts of the past and the future fall away and I see what is in front of me.  I am grateful to practice awareness every single day.  If you believe in enlightenment, then trust that awareness is part of your journey.

2.  The patient is me and I am the patient.  There is this false idea that we are all separate, unique individuals that walk this planet.  But, that isn’t so.  Only for now, I am the doctor and you are the patient.  But, in another instance, I could be the patient and you, the doctor.  What separates me from you is time and circumstance.  At any moment, we could change places.  So, we are not that different at all.  In fact, we are all one and the same.  We all follow the same cycle of birth, life, and death.  This is a fundamental commonality shared among all living things.

Therefore, I treat that person in front of me with the same care and respect that I would (and should) treat my self and my own family.  If I treat you as I would treat myself, then my mind is less distracted and the way becomes more clear.  I choose to believe that nothing separates us but our own ego.

3.  I cannot cure everyone.  In fact, I can cure no one.  I assist in helping a patient’s body (mind, spirit) to heal itself by promoting a therapeutic environment using herbs, acupuncture, massage, and ideas.  The very nature of Chinese medicine is to guide the body back to a form of homeostasis.  My knowledge and understanding of Chinese medicine plays a large part in that guidance.  Another part of the healing equation is action on the patient’s part.  Many times, a patient is not ready to heal.  He or she may be attached (subconsciously or consciously) to his particular illness or disorder.  It is also my duty to assist the patient in understanding the things he or she may be doing to deter their healing process and whether or not I can help at this time.

Part of my practice of Chinese medicine (or any medicine) is showing the patient the path, and part of it is teaching the patient to walk the path.  The third part of my practice is helping the patient find a different path, if they choose.

4.  Acupuncture is a translation of vibrational energy.  Let me try to explain this idea in simple fashion.  Everything in the world is made up of vibrational atomic energy.  Atoms vibrate at different frequencies.  Atoms packed loosely together can vibrate at a high frequency, whereas atoms packed tightly can vibrate at a lower frequency.  It’s the nature of physics.  Every human being is made of multiple levels of vibrational energy.  Bones, muscles, and skin are the most dense physical level, or plane of human vibrational energy.  Due to the close proximity, the atoms of these more solid substances vibrate at a lower frequency (i.e. more slowly).   A higher vibrational energy in the body would be something like the brain’s electrical impulses that stimulate the muscles to move.

So, let’s assume that there are multiple vibrational energies, or planes in the human body.  All of the planes are vibrating at different frequencies.  Now herbs, as well as the acupuncture needles, are also comprised of vibrational energy.  By prescribing an herbal decoction, or inserting acupuncture needles, I am using one form of vibrational energy to affect the patient’s own vibrational energy.  It is up to my skills as an acupuncturist, to move, or manipulate the energy of the patient in a therapeutic way (i.e. to disrupt disease or illness).

This also goes back to #2 and further reinforces that we are all the same.  Physically, we are made of the same elements of atomic matter and vibrational energy.

5.  My practice is my daily life.  I practice what I preach.  I live and breathe much of the ideas that I share with patients.  How else can I know how certain exercises, herbal formulas and acupuncture points feel?  I wouldn’t want to see an acupuncturist that didn’t like to treat themselves with natural medicine.  The experience of Traditional Chinese Medicine on myself adds a deeper dimension to my understanding as well as my ability to relate to the patient.

To further expound upon the idea presented in #4 above, my own vibrational energy is standing in the room with my patient’s energy.  Of course then, we must affect each other on an energetic level.  (Call it the placebo effect, white coat syndrome, power position, or influence, whatever.)  My state of mind and my actions affect everything around me.  I have to have a clear mind and intention to perform acupuncture because these things affect my vibrational energy, and subsequently, the energy of the patient.  They affect my focus during needling, my diagnostic ability, and my ability to prescribe the right herbal formula.  Therefore, to cultivate this energy and allow it to flow, I practice meditation, qigong, acupuncture, and herbal therapy on myself.  It’s part of my desire to live the medicine and make this practice my life.  In Chinese medicine, this concept of vibrational energy is also called qi.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine has opened up a whole new world for me to understand medicine, people, and the cycle of natural life and all things.  Hopefully, this generates some thought about your own acupuncture practice or even your life practice.  I’m always welcome to comments, suggestions, and questions!  Feel free to share!

Kick Your Plantar Fasciitis Out Naturally

Plantar fasciitis

Image via Wikipedia

Plantar fasciitis, commonly misspelled plantar fascitis, or planter fashitis can be as difficult to deal with, as it is to spell.  The problem begins with pain in the heel.  Worse when waking up and taking the first steps right out of bed, this pain can bring the strongest of men down to his knees.  The main symptoms are pain in the heel and underside of foot when walking or carrying out high impact activities, and pain in the heel worse immediately after a long period of rest.

There are different theories that abound on how to treat plantar fasciitis.  We will give you our natural, drug-free approach.  First, stretch the calves.  The gastrocnemius and soleus should be stretched daily, if possible.  The easiest way to stretch the calves is to stand with your toes on a step or stair and your heels dropped off the back.  Allow your heels to slowly lower to where your toes are in a higher position than your heels.  The stretch should be felt in the calves downward towards the Achilles tendon.  This stretch is great for the muscles on the posterior side of the lower leg.  The reason for stretching the calves is this.  Think of the calves as shock absorbers for walking and running.  When the calves cannot absorb the impact because of tightness, the shock has to travel elsewhere.  This makes the plantar fascia and plantar aponeurosis absorb more impact than it probably should.

Next, pay attention to how you sleep.  If you sleep on your stomach with your feet always pointed, your calf muscles will tend to stay shortened throughout the night.  Repetition of this sleeping pattern keeps the calf muscles from being flexible and supple.  If you imagine that for almost 8 hours of the day, your calves are shortened, you will see that a change in the position of your feet during sleep can make a difference while you are awake.

Third, work on the intrinsic muscles of the foot.  When I say work on them, I mean do two things:  remove tightness in these muscles and strengthen these muscles.  Removing tightness from these muscles could mean getting a massage or learning to massage these muscles yourself.  It could also mean getting a few acupuncture sessions to reduce the pain.  Strengthening these muscles are also important, although it may not be possible if the present plantar fasciitis pain is excruciating.  There are the typical exercises that a physical therapist would encourage, such as picking up marbles and pulling a towel across the floor with the toes.  I’m sure there are other very good exercises as well.  The reason for treating the intrinsic foot muscles is that these small muscles are responsible for the finer movements of the toes and foot.  By treating these small muscles, the entire load-bearing and active functions of the feet are distributed more evenly.

Lastly, lay off the serious activity that aggravates the plantar fasciitis for a little while.  Since this is an injury that requires some time and effort to heal properly, repeated stress of the injured plantar fascia contributes to scar tissue buildup, can create tears in the tissue, and eventually you will have a less flexible plantar fascia.  Recurrence of injury will continue to plague you, if the healing process is always being interrupted.

As an acupuncturist and massage therapist, I will give you an example of how I would provide a general, natural, effective treatment that I believe works for many sufferers.

  • Acupuncture:  Gastrocnemius motor point (MP), Soleus MP, Tibialis Posterior/Anterior MP, Plantar Fasciitis point (3 needle technique), UB40, UB57, LV3, SP4.
  • Massage:  Soleus and gastrocnemius, interossei, 3 arches of foot.
  • Sciaticare Ball:  Send patient home with self-massage instructions for using Sciaticare Ball with plantar fasciitis.  Daily treatment of 5 minutes per foot, twice a day.
  • Sciaticare Penetrating Muscle Rub:  Send patient home with PMR to apply to calves and soles of feet to help increase blood flow, reduce swelling, and promote healing after treatments.  The PMR is based upon Chinese herbal “hit medicine” or dit da jow.  The herbal constituents absorb quickly into skin to heal bruises and improve circulation.
  • Foot muscle exercises:  Custom exercises to help strengthen intrinsic and extrinsic muscular imbalances.

Promising Research on Pre-eclampsia Detection and Prevention

I came across two articles on pregnancy concerning pre-eclampsia today.  The articles are related to each other in that they both talk about something called pre-eclampsia.  Pre-eclampsia or preeclampsia is defined as “high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a woman who previously had normal blood pressure” according to the Mayo Clinic.  Problems with pre-eclampsia arise because there is no Western medical way to remedy the situation other than delivering the baby.

Typical signs/symptoms of pre-eclampsia include:  high blood pressure, protein in the urine, headaches, vision changes, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.  If you have any combination of these symptoms during your pregnancy, please visit your physician to discuss any concerns about pre-eclampsia.

The first article discussed a new study showing a predictable test for pre-eclampsia.  There currently exists a proteinuria test done that can tell doctors if there is a chance for pre-eclampsia.  Experts in the field say that the proteinuria test does not show enough correlation between protein in the urine and pre-eclampsia to be a valuable marker.  (Example: Proteinuria as a predictor of complications of pre-eclampsia, By Hofmeyr and Belfort)  But now, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have been able to look at a different marker in the urine, called podocytes, which are shed from the kidneys in patients that develop pre-eclampsia during their pregnancy.  Although this was a small study, there are promising results from the small clinical study, showing that all 15 of the women that tested positive for podocytes in their urine developed pre-eclampsia.

The second article, also from BBC news, talks about an amino acid, called L-arginine, that could help reduce the chance for pre-eclampsia when taken with antioxidant supplements.  The study was done on 228 women and basically showed some correlation between the intake of L-arginine with antioxidants and reduction of pre-eclampsia.  Two concerns about the information in this article are:  What is a food bar?  Why did 30% of the control group have pre-eclampsia when 5-10% would be normal?

Otherwise, it is probably a good idea in general to take a vitamin/mineral supplement during pregnancy, such as a prenatal vitamin.  But, don’t forget that there is also a good reason for eating healthy, as vitamins and minerals can be absorbed much more easily through food than through pills.  Some foods high in L-arginine are:  peanuts, almonds, walnuts, other nuts, salmon, shrimp.

If you are looking for natural, alternative ways to try to reduce your chances of pre-eclampsia during your pregnancy, visit your local acupuncturist and check out what they have to offer.  You may be surprised to learn how much Chinese medicine can do!

Research abstract – http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/7/11

Pre-eclampsia prediction (podocytes) article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15694021

Pre-eclampsia prevention (L-arginine) article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13454469

Treat Your Piriformis and Sciatic Pain Naturally

So, you go for a walk and your sciatic pain flares up.  You sit for a long period and your sciatic pain flares up.  You lay in bed a few minutes and your sciatic pain flares up.  What gives?  Chances are that your sciatic pain is caused by a deep hip rotator muscle called the piriformis.

The piriformis muscle is a pear-shaped muscle used in the external rotation of the hips.  It is one of six deep muscles that aid in turning the hips outward, or laterally.  Lying underneath the gluteus maximus muscle, it cannot be palpated without deep pressure from the hands.  The location of the piriformis in the hip and its proximity to the sciatic nerve is what makes this muscle a source of what we call muscle-induced sciatic pain.

The external rotator muscles are constantly working for us.  These muscles are used in activities such as walking, running, cycling, etc.  We are using the external rotators all the time.  Overuse, trauma, and lack of flexibility cause the piriformis to get tight.  Positioned close to the sciatic nerve, a tight piriformis muscle can rub the sciatic nerve, causing irritation and compression similar to the feeling of a lumbar disc problem.  It is this interaction of the piriformis muscle with the sciatic nerve that can cause sciatica.  Tingling and numbness, sharp shooting pain down the back of the leg, weakness in the lower limbs are all products of this type of sciatica, also known as piriformis syndrome.

You can check the tightness in your piriformis and external rotator group muscles by finding a flat surface and lying down on your back.  Look at your feet and see how far outwards your toes point.  With the neutral position being toes pointing straight upwards, the average position of the feet should be approximately 30-40 degrees externally rotated.  A larger angle could signify a tight piriformis muscle.  Therefore, a treatment plan should be made to relieve the sciatica possibly caused by the piriformis.  Natural treatment options for piriformis syndrome include massage therapy, acupuncture, stretching, and strength training.

The way I treat piriformis syndrome in my clinic is with a combination of acupuncture, massage therapy, stretching.  I also like to send the patient home with the Sciaticare Ball along with a list of instructions on how to use the Ball for piriformis syndrome.  Finally, a few stretches are given to the patient to help them get back on their feet quickly.

A typical piriformis treatment at the August Point Wellness Center would be:

  • AcupuncturePiriformis Motor Point (MP), Gluteus Medius MP, Gluteus Minimus MP, Tensor Fasciae Latae MP, Hua To Jia Ji L2-L5, GB30, GB21
  • Massage – Quadratus Lumborum, Gluteus Muscle Group, External Rotator Muscle Group
  • Stretching – Hip External Rotation, Hip Extension, Hip Flexion
  • Sciaticare Ball – Recommend 1-2 times daily Sciaticare Ball treatment using:  Piriformis, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus, & Tensor Fasciae Latae Techniques